November 20, 2010

Of small things, big things someday come.

I came across this sign today during errands:

Now, let's give ourselves a moment to examine the initial reaction you may have had to this. Is it the same reaction I had? Perhaps... maybe not:
Yeah, I was instantly thinking "boycott".

Many of us go to that extreme almost instantly. As cyclists, our rights are always under fire... it's natural to get defensive. Things often get larger than ourselves as we see bicycle bans that encompass entire towns or stretches of road. Think St. Charles County, MO., think Blackhawk, CO., think 83rd Street in DeSoto, KS. Translate this across the "internal combustion line", and think about Cassoday, KS. This paradigm can apply to bicycles, motorcycles, to bow-hunters, to gun rights, to chewing gum in movie theaters. It's about common courtesy, at its core - but it can get out of hand quickly. Are these small towns really "anti-cyclist", or is there something simpler here?

The establishment that posted this sign probably has no opinions or thoughts on how bicyclists use the roads around their town... or maybe they do, now, after the fact. They may not have anything against exercise, or alternative transportation. Let's definitely assume this point, however: whoever posted that sign did NOT spell out "bicyclists not welcome".


I spoke to the manager working the store shortly before I took this picture and asked a lot of questions. I was wearing plain-clothes and had my kids with me. Nothing about me said "cyclist". I was even very careful about indicating I even knew what a "cleat" was. With my sweat-stained ball cap and hoodie, I might as well have come in from a nearby small town, and just wondered what the sign meant. But, even talking to me as a "probably-not-a-cyclist" individual, I could hear the disdain and frustration under her tone and in her choice of words.

I won't try to repeat verbatim what she said here, but the point was that cleats tear up linoleum. There were themes of "courtesy", and "how would they like it if..." rhetoric that touched on whether or not said cyclist would want someone walking across their new floors with screw-in soccer cleats on, things like that. There were lines drawn that made sense: even at the golf course, the pro-shop says "no spikes". There should be a difference in the real world, sign or no sign? She knew enough to debunk what was clearly already a topic that had come up, probably from a cyclist defending their footwear: I know anytime I walk around on concrete that "recessed cleat design" really doesn't mean that much, and her old floors apparently evidenced that.

"But, it's just a c-store...who cares?" you might wonder.

I went there, mentally, also... but let's consider this for what it is. This isn't a big-chain, corporate type of establishment. This is a small town, locally run and owned business, which happens to have a small amount of support from the gasoline company that supplies the pumps and fuel they also sell. This is, really, "home" for the people that probably spend most of their waking hours either at the store, or doing something to support it.

Let's think about the economy. Let's think about how it has really affected small-town America, small-town Kansas, and small-business owners around the region. This particular store used to make and sell really decent barbecue, and last year had to stop. The equipment they invested in for that effort still sits, un-used, inside: a probably sad and daily reminder to them of a dream that didn't quite work out. They may still be paying off that equipment. Probably stings.

Let's think about the fact this store maybe isn't seeing as much business as they'd like. Right down the street about 3/4 of a mile is a larger, corporate-maintained, franchised gas station and c-store right off the main highway. They may not have made the best choice in location, but it probably is still the choice of many of the locals. Still, they might have liked a taste of the highway traveler's dollar over the past few years, and that can't be sitting well.

Regular maintenance still has to be done, cleaning, repairs, and all on a tight budget. The roof might leak and need to be fixed. Light bulbs. Coolers on the fritz. Then, the floor starts to show wear. As a concerned owner, you'd bend down and look at that floor and see that the markings are clear. Frustration sets in - that it's not in the budget, or that the floor was supposed to last "xx" years and it hasn't. The money to keep replacing tiles just isn't there. How do you control that expense? Can you afford to turn away a customer in this economy? On a summer weekend, they probably see as many cyclists as they do farmers and locals. What to do?

It probably started mentally, then verbally... now it's a sign on the door. It probably starts discussions where the owner would have sooner liked to bite his tongue and just say "thanks for your business"... but, that frustration is still there. Maybe it starts arguments, threats from alpha-cyclists akin to "never shopping there again" are shouted. More frustration. Is the argument worth it? Sure, it doesn't say it now, but maybe the words on that sign will read "bicyclists not welcome", eventually.

Maybe this is already circling the forums that I no longer subscribe to, or someone else's social network page. I don't know... but I actually (as if you couldn't tell) tend to side with the shop keep on this one. I know what the economy has done to me, and my family. I know what I have had to say "no" to, what I've had to wait to repair in my own home and on my own bicycle because the money wasn't there. I don't like it when someone meat-handles something I worked hard to build/fix/maintain. I know a lot of us are like that. That's not unusual -- but, I know enough about myself that running a c-store, constantly letting the unknown masses into my pride and joy, the store that supports my family, and seeing them mess it up - however tiny, however un-intentional... I personally could not handle it.

Un-intentional: I don't believe for a second there is a cyclist on earth that intends to mar linoleum on purpose. Cleats are part of the package. However, I would also note that I don't believe there is a cyclist on this earth that wouldn't look at this sign, and because of what we generally go through as cyclists, not instinctively go on the defensive. It's inevitable. I would caution against that, here. Perspective: someone on the morning radio applauses questionable behavior towards cyclists, or a major c-store chain airs advertisements that put cycling in a negative light, or a congressman tries to take a road away - YES: fight, scream, pound the table, write, call, email, stand up and speak.

For the Stilwell Grocery at 199th and Metcalf; folks, let's see this for what it really is - and either kindly slip the shoes off, or spend the $12.00 on some rubber cleat covers. The fact we're riding bicycles for sport or recreation indicates that we, however small, have some expendable income - and certainly the time. You'll save their floor, you'll help a small business stay open in a larger sense. You'll maintain a good relationship with a familiar oasis at the end of a long stretch of road: for all of us. It shouldn't matter that there's another c-store 3/4 of a mile away: boycotting is not the answer here. Courtesy, understanding, and partnership is.

Supporting a local business is important. They have effectively opened their "home" to us, their restrooms, their ice machine and water dispenser, their front porch and picnic tables. Yes, we are paying them for drinks and chips - but I'm not sure that's the point. Let's remember how often our rights as cyclists are at risk, and extend them their right as business owners to set some guidelines. I don't find their request here terribly unreasonable, even if it does add a small step to my ride routine.

And, don't over-react: this is not so much an "anti-cyclist" thing as it's an "anti incosiderate people" thing.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading.


Randy said...

That's a shame. I always thought of them as a bicycle-friendly business, and I've always made a point of purchasing something, whether I needed it or not, whenever I've stopped there, often going out of my way to make them part of my route. And I thought their BBQ was great and was saddened when they shut that down.

But given a choice between a business that accepts me as I am, versus one that puts conditions on my patronage, I'm more likely to choose the one that doesn't discriminate. (And regardless of the reasons behind it, that's what that sign says, to me, at least.)

Mark Rainey said...

That store is a popular spot for cyclists. You would think that the amount of volume that we bring in every weekend would be more of a positive than a negative. If the sign simply read "No Cleats Allowed" I'd be less offended. I would then expect it to mean that football, baseball, soccer, golf, etc. were also banned.

Although, the manager did come out side and tell my brother to get his sweaty butt off the picnic table one morning also. I think that he did leave a bit of a stain...

Mike said...

Very well thought out and written.

Unknown said...

I don't think this is anti-cyclist. I think the opposite. This tells me this store gets a ton of business from cyclist. This business is popular with cyclist for reasons stated above. This store gets me, understands me as a cyclist. The BAK every summer has rules about no cleats inside the buildings that volunteer to host/house/feed hundreds of cyclists. From pictures I have seen signs very much like this one during the BAK and I would not think that ANY of those groups or locations are anti cycling. Enjoyed the post.

Corinna said...

This is one of the many reasons I stopped wearing cleats a lot time ago. They didn't make me faster, and they did interfere with a lot of off the bike activities I was having.

SpacerGuy said...

The wording on this sign doesn't exactly roll out the welcome mat for bicyclists but the storeowner is obviously trying to prevent further damage to his floor. A clean shiney floor really makes a place look home. However I do get your point. Scarred worn floors send out that rundown, what a dump message and if the owners are living in the store...heaven help them.

skiffrun said...

To "Commuter Dude":

Well thought out. Thank you. Respect for another's property seems a pretty basic concept.

I don't understand the attitude of the first two commentors. Ever had someone borrow your tire irons or frame pump only to throw it on the ground when something about changing the flat didn't go smoothly?


Maybe you are the person that borrows something during a ride and then isn't careful or respectful in the way you treat the borrowed equipment. If fellow riders seem reticent to loan use of their equipment ... need this sentence be finished?

dmar836 said...

I know when I refinish our hardwood floors, putting shoes on inside will end. I would like to think you all wouldn't just clog in with them on either. I'm always sensitive when at a guest's house to see if they are wearing shoes or not. If not, I remove my own. It's pretty simple and unfortunately must require a sign. I always feel weird wearing cleats inside the C-stores.

Anonymous said...

This happened 20 yrs ago, at the Woods C-store in Bonner Springs. No Cyclist allowed, because of cyclist not purchasing anything and using it as a free bathroom and water stop. Have not been in it since.
Many times we have been at the c-store on 199th and witness the same behavior. I always buy something.